How to access ACH debit

The previous chapter provided an overview of the ACH scheme, how it works, and the different kinds of transactions within it. In this chapter, we’ll examine the necessary steps to get started using ACH debit to accept payments from your customers.


The first step in accepting ACH debit payments from your customers is to gain access to the ACH scheme. Businesses have one of two access routes available to them:

  1. Direct access via your bank
  2. Indirect access via a third-party payments processor (TPPP)

Neither route is inherently “better” than the other - the best option for your business depends on its size and requirements.

The direct access route

For larger businesses, ACH access is likely able to be arranged directly via your bank (also known as the originating depository financial institution, or ODFI). In order for your bank to provide you with direct access, you’ll need to demonstrate that your business has the following in place:

  • A strong balance sheet capable of underwriting the ACH debit risk (if it doesn’t, the ODFI is likely to request cash collateral - typically a percentage of transaction volume)
  • The ability to generate and submit ACH files in Nacha’s specified format (which involves a certain level of technical expertise)

The indirect access route

As the requirements of the direct access route can be demanding, many companies prefer to work with a TPPP to manage the complexities of collecting ACH debit.

The TPPP acts as an intermediary in transmitting ACH entries between the originator (your business) and an ODFI.

If you go down the indirect access route, there are many TPPPs to choose from. It’s important to do your research before committing to one, in order to identify the one that best suits your business needs.

There is, however, a good chance you’re already using a service provider that is capable of processing payments by ACH debit. Banks, credit card payment processors, accounting software providers – if you’re currently using any of these, it’s worth asking to see if they can offer ACH debit services too.

Indirect access via GoCardless

GoCardless is an online ACH debit specialist that can manage the entire payment collection process for you, without the need for an agreement with your bank.

With GoCardless you can manage your payments using a simple online tool, or integrate with the GoCardless REST API. Your customers will be able to set up ACH debit payments online, avoiding the need to fill out tedious paper authorization forms. And once an authorization is in place, you can collect one-off or recurring payments from customers automatically.

You can learn more about using GoCardless for ACH debit payments in Chapter 4.

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